APAB Votes to Request Atlanta Committee Briefing Records

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(APN) ATLANTA — At the Saturday, May 21, 2011, meeting of the Atlanta Planning and Advisory Board (APAB), the citizens’ advisory group to the City of Atlanta, APAB voted to request information related to one of the City Council of Atlanta’s seven regularly scheduled closed-door Committee Briefings, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

APAB President Cathy Richards and senior advocate Ben Howard confirmed the APAB vote to APN.

Howard, who chairs the APAB Committee on Committee on Council [not a typo – APAB has a Committee that focuses on the Committee on Council], brought the issue of Atlanta’s controversial practice of holding closed-door Committee Briefings, to the attention of APAB.

Richards said that APAB discussed the issue in depth at its April 2011 meeting, but decided to table the discussion until May.  Then, at the May 21, meeting, APAB voted on the matter.

APAB will be sending a letter to Councilwoman Felicia Moore (District 9), who chairs the Committee on Council, making two requests.

The first request is for the Committee on Council to attach the agenda for the Committee on Council Briefing, to the agenda for the Committee on Council Meeting.

The second request is for the Committee on Council to include in the Committee on Council Meeting minutes an account of who attended the Committee on Council Briefing.

As previously reported by APN, the Council has been engaging in a practice of holding seven closed-door Committee Briefings every two weeks and not allowing in the public.

APN’s News Editor, the present writer, filed a lawsuit against the City of Atlanta and the seven Committee Chairs, challenging the practice under the Georgia Open Meetings Act, on Monday, May 16, 2011.

According to online records, the Defendants have not yet received a copy of the suit.

The present writer met Monday, May 23, 2011, with Georgia’s Senior Assistant Attorney General, Stefan Ritter, to discuss the suit.

According to an article in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, “Attorney General Sam Olens’ office is reviewing the lawsuit to decide whether to join the action.  Olens made open meetings a signature issue for his office.”

APAB’s forthcoming request and inquiry to Councilwoman Moore is not in any way related to the lawsuit.

Richards told APN that APAB Corresponding Secretary Richard Raugh will be drafting the request, that the language of the request will need to be approved by the Executive Committee of APAB, and that the email to Moore will then be sent, with a carbon copy to Council President Ceasar Mitchell.

According to Howard and Richards, Mr. Raugh was supportive of APAB making the request.  Raugh stated at the APAB meeting that he had been able to attend some of the Committee Briefings, and that he felt the information discussed at the Briefings was enlightening to him, and that other members of the public should be able to share in that enlightenment.

APN has learned that there are at least two members of the public who have been able to attend at least one closed-door Committee Briefing.  AJC reporter Ernie Suggs is one of the individuals, in addition to Raugh.

It is not immediately clear why some citizens receive special privileges to attend Committee Briefings, while others are routinely denied access.

APAB may be in for quite a surprise when they receive a response from Moore.

Upon information and belief, the Council Committees have not been keeping agendas of the Committee Briefings.

APN requested copies of any and all minutes from Committee Briefings several weeks ago, and Municipal Clerk Rhonda Dauphin Johnson stated there were not minutes responsive to the request.

Seeing as how the City does not consider the Committee Briefings to count as “meetings” under the Georgia Open Meetings Act, typically does not allow in the public, and does not keep minutes, it is unlikely that they are keeping agendas.

APAB is charged with serving in an advisory capacity to the City, and the Board is concerned as to how they can adequately perform their responsibility to advise when they do not even know what was discussed, or who even attended, the closed-door Committee Briefings.

(END / 2011)

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